How ‘Green Room’ Transcends The Arthouse-Multiplex Divide

Yesterday, Lionsgate announced the Blu-ray date for Green Room (original review), which hits home video on July 12th. Is that a bad sign, announcing a video date just a week after the film expands nationwide? Maybe, but I hope not. I hope it continues to play, if only to prove a point. There are plenty of things to love about Green Room, and at least a small handful to hate. Not into plainly depicted violence or visible gore? It might not be your thing, and I suppose I can understand, even if we’re fundamentally different. But maybe even more so than Green Room is a good movie, it’s good for movies.

The best, or possibly the most important, thing about Green Room is that it transcends the traditional multiplex/arthouse dichotomy. For years, if you wanted to see a movie with visceral thrills and chills, it came with a sort of tacit terms and conditions agreement. If you wanted to feel your pulse quicken, you had to accept a certain amount of, well, bullshit. Plot points would be obsessively explained, twists would come at the expected times, characters you wanted to live would, bad guys would sneer and have scars on their faces, etc. Lots of things happened that you didn’t entirely believe, but you learned to accept them because that was part of the bargain. That’s the formula! That’s the genre!

Multiplex movies might be violent, but only in a set of accepted ways. There was a Maxim magazine formula to it — lots of cleavage and thigh gaps, but never nipples or pubic hair. Which is, in its way, an implicit admission that their violence exists to tantalize as much as it does to serve the story. For movies that court the “big reaction,” they leave so much potential for shock and surprise on the table — mostly just due to creative inertia. Action movies have kept getting bigger and more expensive, when all the really needed to feel fresh was a sense of the unpredictable.

Conversely, if you wanted to be surprised, to see a movie with characters and situations that seemed real and not “just real enough,” where something truly shocking might happen, you went to the arthouse. But there, you had to make another kind of a bargain. One where you’d maintain the potential for surprise, but you had to accept that you probably wouldn’t be ducking imaginary bullets or gripping your armrest. You’d instead be asked to meditate, to look inward. There wouldn’t be belly laughs, but you might smile in your head a little (along with similar equivalencies for every emotion), pleased at the catharsis of it all.

The best thing about Green Room, and perhaps the reason it’s destined to be a “tweener,” never fully accepted by the multiplex popcorn merchants or the arthouse tastemakers (though hopefully not), is that it doesn’t require that old bargain. It’ll play at your local arthouse, but only because it came from the festival circuit and maintains its air of indie cool. But it’s really just a great multiplex movie, created on the cheap(ish), by a filmmaker who thought he could do it better. It’s a chimera with the brain of an indie and the populist, crowd-pleasing soul of a blockbuster.

It’s smart, it’s idiosyncratic, it takes weird left turns when you wouldn’t expect them, and it doesn’t take great pains to explain every clue, piece of terminology, or plot point. As writer/director Jeremy Saulnier has said, it’s a film about “learned aggression,” but it’s also fitting that protagonists are a punk band. Because like the best punk rock, Green Room feels like it would rather you sh*t your pants than have a moment of cathartic self-reflection. It’s a movie that knows wanting to get punched in the face doesn’t necessarily make you stupid, and thus, a movie after my own heart.

Vince Mancini is a writer, comedian, and podcaster. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.